Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Open Range (2003)

Among The Finest 21st Century Westerns

- Kevin Costner proved that he is talented behind the camera with the great epic western Dances With Wolves in 1990, but he goes as far as topping that achievement with Open Range in 2003. Putting a modern and distinctive spin on aspects that have worked many times in past westerns while, at the same time, not feeling just like a big film western throw-back, Open Range is a terrific western.

Western nomads Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall) and Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) lead quiet lives as free grazing cattle herders. However, it is precisely their choice of profession that entices the powerful rancher Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) and his band of unlawful lawman try to make Boss and Charley's grazing of the land outside the town of Harmonville their last. See, a lot of "folks in Fort Harmon country don't take to free grazers or free grazing," and Baxter sees their stock of cattle as an opportunity to further his ranch and wealth. Boss and Charley are now forced to defend themselves against Baxter, but when Baxter goes too far, Boss and Charley's trip to Harmonville turns into a revenge mission.

Open Range is one of the finest westerns ever made but it especially stands out among modern westerns. Costner's direction is perfect, using few tricks but getting a tight result. Open Range flows in a stream-like way and is very exciting with an exceptionally great final shootout (though the filmmakers do not exactly do a great job counting bullets - who knew a six-shooter could fire more than six bullets?). Costner has a lot to work with - Open Range has a great script complete with an absorbing story, great characters, and classic themes about violence, morals, friendship, romance, and autonomy. Then there is the flawless art direction, great music by Michael Kamen (listen for the brief reprise of a theme from another Kamen and Costner film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991)), and the wonderful cinematography from J. Michael Muro (the lighting is just great and the scenery is beautifully captured) that further the enjoyment of the film.

However great the story and visuals are, the biggest draw to Open Range has to be the fantastic performance from Robert Duvall. Duvall had a long list of great performances behind him by the time he did Open Range and his performance as Boss Spearman surely ranks among the best of them. As the young-at-heart but high-in-years Boss, Duvall is first rate with the humorous side of things ("get your peckers in the dirt!"), is great with the physical work, and knocks the dramatic stuff right out of the park. Kevin Costner is just as great in front of the camera as Charley Waite as he is behind it as the film's director. Charley has a dark past that he does not want to let anyone into and Costner brings the character to the screen with an excellent dry, reserved, intense, and mysterious delivery. Duvall and Costner are a great give-and-take acting team, all too believable and likable as age old friends that really embody the film's main themes of friendship above all else. But the cast does not begin and end with Duvall and Costner - Annette Bening is as sweet as can be yet strong-willed as Sue Barlow, Michael Gambon does a great bad guy in this film as the evil Baxter, and Diego Luna gives an entertaining portrayal of the young cowboy Button.

Open Range has everything going for it - great story, performances, cinematography, everything. In an age where westerns are fewer and farther between, it is really too bad that there are not more westerns coming out that are as good as Open Range.

CBC Rating: 9/10

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